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Everyone plays the Bach Prelude no. 1 in C (You Tube video embedded)

Is this the latest hit among classically minded You Tubers? How many have flocked to upload Bach Prelude 1 from the Well- Tempered Clavier. Perhaps it’s because playing this first one, and singing the “Ave Maria” over it elevate the player to new spiritual heights. Spun out broken chords between the hands lay a bed of enriched harmony that will support anyone’s attempt to vocalize. You needn’t be a professional singer. Just humming “Ave Maria” will do and it works.

As Introduction, BAROQUE minded people might prefer to upload No. 1 and not some of the later ones in Bach’s collection that advance a bit quickly. (There are 24 in Book I)

The Preludes travel around the Circle of Fifths gathering sharps when going clockwise and flats when proceeding in the opposite direction. The Fugues that belong to the Preludes in pairs, challenge the player to listen to an introductory “subject” that weaves through the music, with an added “counter-subject.” “Episodes” between subject/counter subject follow and the counter-point (independence and interaction) of voices requires analysis of what transpires from measure to measure and phrase to phrase. It’s definitely not child’s play, though one should play like a child, with a sense of awe—like the first awareness of a sunset or sunrise.

I offer a few insights as prelude to playing the Prelude.

The character of No. 1 is immediately evident. There are no articulated notes. The spun out broken chords passing across the hands suggest the harp, an ethereally divine, angelic instrument.

For those with a purist approach to the music of Bach, the use of the sustain pedal through a progression of chord-like patterns would be ill advised. Impassioned Baroque stalwarts could claim that the piano was not in existence during the composer’s time. “The harpsichord reigned supreme!”

To dry up this prelude, would be a mortal sin. And then again, if I had a harpsichord at my disposal, I would probably place it in a very “live” musical environment so it would shimmer with resonance.

In my opinion, the best way to approach broken chord patterns is to CHORD them at first to experience what voices are common from chord to chord and which depart. Bach wanted the player to know what harmonic directions he was taking because he made it a point to craft a melody through a journey of chords. What a blessing to feel neighbor motion between sonorities, but it will not always happen. If it did, the music would sound trite, not rising to a level of genius.

The Prelude should be played extemporaneously, or maybe I am falling into the Romantic period, advancing the clock.

I just couldn’t help feeling a well of emotions in the space of just two pages.

Bach and his genius reign!

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